We don’t know if you’ve heard, but space is pretty big. Infinite, in fact. The ever-stretching nature of space means that almost any story can be told with the great out there as a setting, and a lot of stories have been. There have been some truly incredible shows set in space, that managed to balance the awe of an infinite cosmos with the intimacy of a personal story.
Battlestar Galactica (2004)
A loose remake of the 1978 original series, the 2004 incarnation of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is one of the few remakes that far surpasses its original. The show follows the inhabitants of the eponymous Galactica, a warship leading a fleet constantly on the run from total oblivion. The Galactica must protect the remnants of Earth’s population from the threat of the Cylons, a mysterious race of androids, some of whom look entirely too human.
The show was a masterpiece of storytelling, balancing tension as taut as razor wire with the personal stories of the Galactica’s inhabitants. As well as the constant existential threat the Galactica is under, the show deals with the day-to-day struggles of a population desperate to believe there’s a future for them somewhere out in space – while not knowing exactly who they can trust. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was critically acclaimed during its run, spawning two spin off shows and being lauded as one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
There are going to be a lot of opinions about which ‘Star Trek’ series should be on this list, but we’re firm in our choice of ‘The Next Generation’. The show, which ran for 7 seasons, concerns the crew of the Starship Enterprise, whose mission is to do nothing less than explore the furthest reaches of space. ‘The Next Generation’ perfectly captured the spirit of ‘Star Trek’s’ core concept, using the unlimited range of space to tell very human stories. Every high-concept story and far-flung escapade was an adventure in and of itself, but contained within that was a deeply human element.
A high concept, mind-bending situation might prove to contain an achingly personal lesson about loss, and the worth of living nonetheless. An episode spoken entirely in riddles and idioms would prove a touching example of the ability to make connections even when barriers between people seem insurmountable. ‘Star Trek TNG’ was so powerful because it understood that life is just as infinite as space, and its skillful, moving use of stories to make that point has reverberated throughout the ensuing years of sci-fi stories.
Perhaps the most irreverent sci-fi in history when it comes to the tropes and tricks of the genre, ‘Space Dandy’ is a show like no other. The show follows the shiftless and often oblivious crew of the Aloha Oe – Dandy, QT, and Meow. The 3 crewmates find themselves on one absurd high-concept adventure after another, often against their own volition, always with no idea of what they’re doing. As a send-up of the tropes of both anime and sci-fi, ‘Space Dandy’ is a deeply unserious show.
The main characters have very little notion of what goes on around them, and even less of an interest in it. The show combines spirited, razor-sharp humor with a variety of striking and vibrant art styles, and a world-class soundtrack, to create adventures that start at 10 and stay up there at all times. However, ‘Space Dandy’s’ greatest strength is its ability to switch from these madcap moments, on a dime, to profound, often heartbreaking stories that resonate in ways someone might never have thought the show capable of.
The expanse of space is vast and unknowable, but thankfully that didn’t intimidate the creators of these shows. They grabbed the spirit of infinity with both hands, using it to tell stories the likes of which had never been seen before, and may well never be seen again.